Friday, October 10, 2014

IFComp 2014 - Enigma, by Simon Deimel

A parser game, Enigma is an interesting piece of IF that derails a bit from the conventions of text adventures. After two "pills", a larger game to swallow. Fortunately, involving that much of a story that I could find it interesting.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

IFComp 2414 - Begscape, by Porpentine

Begscape is a WB game in which you play the role - as suspected - of a beggar trying to survive the day on the streets.

Very cut-with-an-axe, the main character shouldn't be considered a real, profound one. We have no motivation (what has happened?), no purpose (when do we win?), no identity (what's our story?). On the contrary, our beggar has to be intended as a metaphor of a much wider set of humans, each with similar difficulties in facing hunger, lack of respect, overall bad luck (of sorts). The kind of people anybody can discover being, in spite of himself: hopeless.

The mechanics of the game are simple and straight-to-the-point. We keep clicking on the same hyperlink (this is soooo much what people complain about WB games, still soooo much necessary to the story!), hoping for something good to happen. We try and survive the longest possibile, ultimately dying of famine in twenty turns, tops. After a while, the "game" itself becomes so boring you run away in fear...

... and it's then that you understand the point of it all.

What if I was in the same situation? In real life, you know, there is no off-button. The only exit, is the last one. What if I had to beg to survive, had to endure the spits, the hemorrhage of insults, the mob pushing me away because they are uncomfortable with my presence? What could I do?

The answer this game gives pretty much sums up to: nothing. You just keep hitting the button, or the streets, until this absent-minded god decides the game is over. Or we do.

Honestly, if this game was not from acclaimed Porpentine, I would have thought it was a troll entry. (This tells a lot about our expectations in videogames or narration itself. Tells a lot about why editors and publishers work as they do, and how hard it is for newcomers to reach the wider audience. I myself am one, struggling to be heard from the literary circles, and begging - everyday - for somebody to read my manuscripts. This tells a lot, also, about how wonderful the IF community is, and welcoming. But this is tangential.) Knowing how much content to expect, I was more open-minded and received a lot more than it was possible from Begscape.

Having us live the repeating nightmare of a beggar (again: a very chunky beggar but, for the sake of letting a message pass through, this was necessary), cursing the game for cutting us down of 5 coins just when we got enough to buy a night of food and sleep, randomly insulting or robbing us, Begscape succeeds in letting us understand a generic mood that could apply to a very wide range of situations. Up to us to link the feeling to our personal experiences.

The prose is effective and works like a Turner painting, turned upside-down. Above (where in a Turner it would have been below), the brilliant, evocative description of fairy places. Below (the darkness usually engulfing many of the painter's masterworks) a set of arid actions around which our life turns. After a while, you completely stop looking at the beautiful descriptions - half because of the repetition in gameplay, half because of what you do care for: survival - and simply bounce from an ordeal to the next until your life's gone.


If one wants to have fun, this game is to be avoided. The mix between concept, game mechanics and theme makes it for a punch to the stomach, although not so intense as in previous works by the same author. Technically, a brief experience -- maybe too brief to be recorded, or recommended. But, while I would deem it not-right for the IFComp, I understand that the same statement would have passed by, no one noticing it if exposed elsewhere. And, you see, being ignored is the first of a beggar's problems.


Emily Short received far more input from this game. I suppose it depends on one's experiences and empathy. You should take a read there, too.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

IFComp 2014 - Caroline, by Kristian Kronstrand

Caroline is a web-based (WB) game in an unknown format, so probably custom-made. I can't be that sure because I didn't try the potentials of Twine 2, i.e., which I'm told are pretty high.

As a hyperlink game, Caroline brings to the table something almost new, in a fashion that, from the very beginning, caught me. The commands, in fact, are not taken in the form of clicking, but via typing exact words into a parser-based (PB)-like command prompt. This is essentially part of the story, for what I want to believe, and adds a lot to the outcome of the story itself.

But let's start from the beginning.



So, as Wade Clarke said a few hours before me, it has begun.

This thing is reminiscent of the Christopher Nolan's Batmans. And it's funny, because the sentence itself is almost a trope, given how many times it has been used in the industry: The Lord of the Rings comes to mind. I have to think about it, sooner or later.

I won't give any unnecessary advice on how to read these commentaries. I will try and do my best to dissect the various stories, in the hope of giving some more insight on both the means of storytelling and the mechanics of game-making. I can't promise to fully review everything this year's IFComp has given us, because that would frankly be bigshooting. Apologies to those left behind: my day has only 24 hours and I have a five years old boy. Those of you who are parents may relate.

The sequence is much random, but sometimes I will aim at stories that for some reason I want to play sooner.

The blurbs were more or less all boring (blurb-writing is the hardest part in the job, people, so don't laugh at the entrants!) but something caught my eye more than the rest.

Let it be obvious that the kind of games I like will probably influence both my goodwill in reviewing and the outcome of said reviews. As they say: we are human, all strings attached. Let's just hope I will be able to be 90% objective, when tearing apart pieces of IF: that would be a feat not to be underestimated.


For those who don't know me, and somewhat care, I'm Marco Innocenti. Graphic designer, teacher in design classes, writer-wannabe, award-winning (by mere luck) text adventure creator. I believe I can have something to say on both storytelling and game-making. This is why I hold on to the privilege of doing it. I'm almost 42, born and breed in Renaissance culture -- nonetheless educated on the street of the not-so-best neighborhoods in town. This means I may very well show limits others, more educated, writers don't have. In case you don't like my style, my contents, or my English (guess you understood I'm Italian), feel free to leave a remark here (polite or non-polite, it's not that I'm that easily offended, but of course the first is preferred) and go seek for wisdom somewhere else. There's plenty of impressive reviewers out there, and you can find an all-inclusive list here.

Have fun...

...But don't forget one thing: games (or stories) are meant to be played (or read). Dissections, commentaries and reviews are cool, but giving them a try firsthand is what you should really do. So: DO IT NOW.